No room at the inn!
Preparations for the in-coming Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife pest eradication team are well under way at Macquarie Island.
The station is now expecting up to an additional 28 eradication program staff in early April, more than double the usual number for winter. It will be a case of "no room at the inn" as every bed will be occupied, as will a number of field huts and ‘hunter’s huts’ made from converted water tanks that have been deployed around the island. Station personnel are currently visiting them all to ensure that they are in good order and well provisioned.
To minimise the risk of poisoning other than the target species of introduced rats, mice and rabbits, the eradication program was carried out last year over the winter months when many penguins and sea birds had gone to sea. Unfortunately the preferred commencement of the program was delayed due to late arrival on the island, and further exacerbated by bad weather. This meant that only about 10% of the island was baited effectively and poisoned carcasses were still available to birds on their return to the island. As a result, a larger than anticipated number of sea birds was killed due to secondary poisoning.
Over the last 6 months, greater risk mitigation strategies have been developed including the release of the viral rabbit calicivirus in February. Usually most effective in dry, arid environments, the outcome in the cool, wet Macquarie Island climate was less certain.
With the assistance of the station leader and doctor in early February, Parks staff released the virus in 15 locations around the island. The virus has resulted in a significant decline in rabbit populations. The smaller number of rabbits at the time the baiting program commences will of course put fewer sea birds at risk.
Sufficient fresh bait to complete the baiting has been manufactured and will be delivered to the island with the project team and supplies.
Four helicopters arriving in April will play a major part in the deployment of the bait and expeditioners have created an improvised hangar by clearing space in the station store. This has necessitated a major rearrangement of station supplies elsewhere on station.
A new concrete helipad was recently completed in Market Square adjacent to the ‘hangar’ to enable easy wheeled access for the aircraft. As there are an additional 4 helipads on The Isthmus, repairs to all the sensors and the seal fencing have been brought forward and are currently under way. These annual tasks to repair the damage caused by the elephant seals are normally carried out before the first ship visit of the new season.
The arrival of the pest eradication team with the helicopters and fresh bait as well as the station resupply will occur over two voyages in April, Voyage 5 on the Aurora Australis, and Voyage 6 on the French polar vessel L’Astrolabe.